Already Something

Above, leaving this life, remembering his beloved ocean tests of his mettle,

stepping into an enlightenment of spirit he now must knowingly walk,

with me, very small, observing on perhaps a shore or cloud,

seeing who he truly is and was.

Maestro Stefan Wenta passed in August of this year. He was a great man. A greatly flawed man but hugely influential to hundreds of dancers for the last 60 years in Los Angeles. A genius fluent in many languages, who played chess as an elevated art, discussed Goethe's philosophy in its original German, and cooked a mean paella effortlessly.

None of the remarkable things he did ever seemed to have been done with much strain nor stress. He conducted himself with the largess of a God. And I treated him exactly that way in kind. I worshipped him for who he was in life and for the many times he saved mine.

I met him when he was 43 and I was eleven in 1973. He saw me in a children's ballet class and suggested I could have a career if I came to his classes and studied closely. He treated me like his other adult students and I cried from frustration during the first one. I didn't understand a word he was saying in French through his thick Polish accent and was the only one who didn't know what movements to do. What was right? 

I wanted to never go back but my stepfather said to quit after the rest of the four classes they'd paid Stefan were taken. Ballet became my life by the third class. He imparted much to me in those early years. How to hold myself, how to be a classical dancer in a genuine sense.

When it came time to move, I didn't lament leaving Maestro. I thought his ballet was how all ballet was taught. I was quite wrong. I studied hard as I grew up with other teachers, even other great ones in my teens, but no other person could compare to Stefan Wenta in any way.

When I left home at 17 to join the Santa Barbara Ballet Company (thanks to grandmama keeping their theatrical backdrops in a nearby empty office building she owned) it became very clear very quickly when casting roles that my face wasn't going to be pretty enough for a career in ballet. I was in the corps as a favor by the director. By the next season, there was no further funding for the company. We were all told to go onto government welfare to pay for food and rent. I didn't even have a social security card yet and even if I did, didn't think welfare was fair for an able-bodied 18-year-old to take. So, I quit.

After 25 years without ballet, marrying three times, and becoming more spiritually aware, I saw Stefan by chance on TV playing himself, the cruel ballet master with a bamboo cane. Now grey in the goatee, yet still shining in the eyes, I found that he was not only still alive but also still teaching open classes about 15 minutes away from where I lived.

I had been telling my husband for years about my first ballet teacher in Unicornian terms. Stefan was legendary in the mythos of my life history. I wanted Paul to have an experience of that for himself, just once. How often do we intersect with masters in life?!

Paul wanted to cry that first class, his first ever in life at 55. He was angry with me, thinking I'd forced him into an advanced ballet class. Everyone is frustrated by their first class with Stefan. It's normal.

My second epoch with Maestro Stefan Wenta started that day and was far deeper than even the first. This one included my dear Paul as we, together, shared hundreds of Stefan's classes over the last 16 years. I have thousands of hand-scrawled notes to prove it. I don't know why I was writing down everything Stefan said. Perhaps a book of his technique and life wisdom. It was all just so bloody profound that it needed to be written down.

When Covid 19 closed the studio, for what we all assumed would be a couple weeks to rest,  I didn't know I'd never have another class. I spent time taking Stefan to many medical appointments during the height of the Pandemic up until last Christmas when I could no longer watch him make choices for his health I thought were mistakes. I had stepped into the role of one of his caretakers of sorts, helping to highly organize his medications and medical care in my typical too much way. And he, true to his nature, would adhere to instead doing whatever he saw fit, often without letting me know.

I backed away to let him do as he rightfully wished without confrontation and upset, as he became frailer and frailer. He chose to have major surgery after being successfully treated for cancer, got Covid in hospital, and soldiered through as he always had done, with his army of angels doing great leaps to keep him alive.

Finally, at 97, he passed beautifully at home. He had received my hand-made gifts and letters of love and support. The formal portrait I'd made of him years ago stood at the altar during his Catholic funeral mass.

Stefan Wenta lead the sort of remarkable life that even hearing of his many adventures can leave one in awe. I'll mention one he told us before I go. He developed a great love for Baja Mexico during his trips down the coast in fast convertibles in the 60s with Steve McQueen and other raconteurs. They'd swim and drink in the cantinas and God only knows what else.

By the 90s, Rosarito Beach became his go-to spot for a little break from daily classes. One later weekend he'd brought along two lovely young students for the trip. After taking his usual post-drive dip in the ocean, swimming far out beyond his limits, this time he became caught in a strong rip tide. He struggled to exhaustion to overcome it, fighting for over two hours. He was carried off and awoke far from the shore he'd left. He could barely move but somehow managed to get back to the hotel room only to find one of the girls in the process of being electrocuted by a faulty refrigerator. She was stuck to the metal shelving unable to speak nor move. Some water had shorted something badly fixed and her feet in water and hand on the metal conducted a circuit.

Stefan grabbed her by her shoulders, even in the state of exhaustion from his battle with the sea, and managed to rip her from the electrical connection, conveniently saving her life after saving his own.

Thank you for all the stories, Stefan.